Algeria assessing its 'mistakes' in hostage standoff, needs international help, minister says

Algeria's foreign minister said Friday his government is assessing the mistakes made in a hostage crisis at a Saharan gas plant in which many foreign workers were killed by Algerian military strikes.

Mourad Medelci told The Associated Press that Algeria needs to reinforce security conditions for multinationals working there after Islamist extremists raided the Ain Amenas plant and seized the hostages last week.

Speaking in Switzerland, he said the attack wasn't targeting Algeria but "investors ... and the foreigners who work there."

The Jan. 16 attack, which an al-Qaida affiliated organization has claimed responsibility for, sent scores of foreign energy workers fleeing across the desert for their lives. A four-day siege by Algerian forces on the complex left at least 37 hostages and 29 militants dead. Some of the fatalities were badly burned, making it difficult to identify them.

Algeria's decision to refuse foreign help and send the military to fire on vehicles full of hostages drew widespread international criticism.

Medelci acknowledged that Algeria, which has grappled with internal extremist violence for years, needs international help to combat terrorism.

Norwegian energy company Statoil ASA said Friday that three Norwegian employees missing after the Ain Amenas attack have been confirmed dead. Statoil CEO Helge Lund said the three workers were 58-year-old Tore Bech; Thomas Snekkevik, 35; and 55-year-old Hans M. Bjone.

Bech, who had worked for Statoil in Algeria since 2006, was the stepfather of Norwegian International Development Minister Heikki Holmaas.

Statoil gave no details about the victims or circumstances leading to their discovery or identification.

Two other Norwegian Statoil employees remain missing from the attack, Statoil said.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg conveyed condolences to the families of the dead, describing the attack as "brutal ... and full of evil." He added that it is unlikely that any more survivors of the attack will be found.

It was unclear whether the three Norwegians identified on Friday were among the five foreign workers that Algeria has reported missing or whether their bodies had been found but have only now been identified.

Norway has a forensic team in Algeria helping local officials.


AP correspondent Angela Charlton contributed from Davos.